Stanford medical student Hannah Wild traveled to the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia to survey the health of the nomadic Nyangatom who live there – and to show that people who are hard to count still count.
BY JODY BERGER
The Nyangatom are hard to find. To survive the harsh climate of the Omo River Valley in southern Ethiopia, they break camp, move their cattle and goats, and rebuild their lives somewhere new as often as every several weeks. Though reliable data on this population is practically nonexistent, there are an estimated 30,000 members of the tribe, many of whom are invisible in census-based surveys – the Nyangatom move too fast for the data collectors.
The invisibility might not matter if international organizations didn’t depend on census-based demographic and health surveys to design policy and distribute resources. Without any real data, experts within the World Bank, the World Health Organization and NGOs don’t have adequate information to make good policy decisions that affect these groups.
But Stanford medical student Hannah Wild wanted them to count. She’d spent 18 months living, working and learning the language with the Nyangatom after graduating from Harvard University. She wanted to show it was possible to reach this community and other nomads like them, so she stole minutes between the crush of first-year courses (Human Anatomy, Applied Biochemistry and the rest) to talk to experts within Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.
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